Why 2023 Grammy Award nominee Molly Tuttle would rather be a ‘Crooked Tree’ : NPR

Molly Tuttle is at home at The Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn.

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Molly Tuttle is at home at The Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn.

Joseph Ross for NPR

This is part of All Things Considered’s feature series about first-time Grammy Award nominees, ahead of the February 5 awards ceremony. Read the profile above Omar Apollo. The Muni Long profile will be published tomorrow.

It’s blooming in Nashville, let’s light up the town
Raise a glass and drink quickly before they finish it
Polish your shoes
– Molly Tuttle, from “Nashville Mess Around”

While public health restrictions kept it out of business during the pandemic, the Station Inn still received thanks from the Grammy Awards.

In March 2021, the Grammy TV show aired a pre-produced segment about the popular bluegrass venue in Nashville, Tenn. – one of several independent clubs introduced that year. During that section, owner JT Gray promised a nationwide audience that the club would reopen: “It will be a celebration like never before,” he said. “It’s going to be a big party.”

Gray died at the age of 75 the following week and did not live to see his club reopen. But the Station Inn once again has music seven days a week.

In Nashville, the heart of the country music industry, it still the place to listen to bluegrass and other acoustic root music. And though it’s now surrounded by tall, glass apartment and office buildings – “boxed in like an old man’s home from the movie Up!” like a country star Dierks Bentley wrote – it definitely looks like part of the classic honky-tonk style: low ceilings, vintage concert posters, neon lights, cold beer as advertised by those neon lights.

Molly Tuttle saw a performance there when she moved to Nashville eight years ago. It was one of the first places she played in Nashville. And when she made her 2022 album crooked treethat’s where she wants to hold an album release concert.

“If you love bluegrass, you’ve heard of the Station Inn in Nashville,” she told NPR.

crooked tree is Tuttle’s attempt to give something back to the bluegrass community.

Joseph Ross for NPR

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crooked tree is Tuttle’s third album, but in a way it’s a re-introduction. This was her first recording entirely in the bluegrass style, where she rose to fame as a guitarist. In part, it is a retelling of her own origin story in music. And it earned Tuttle her first Grammy nomination — not just for best bluegrass album, but to her great surprise, for best new artist overall.

“I feel like when I make this record, I just really want to give in [bluegrass] the community has supported me so much over the past year, which they will love,” she said. [bluegrass nomination] feel really good. Minutes later I started getting all these calls and texts and I had no idea what was going on. I was like, ‘Wait, did something else happen?'”

grass valley

My heart opens with sound
I didn’t know it at the time, but my life turned a page
– from “Valley of Grass”

Tuttle grew up in Palo Alto, Calif. – now located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Her father is not in the tech industry.

Jack Tuttle grew up playing bluegrass in rural Illinois. When he heard from his daughter, he realized he didn’t want to work on the family farm (the farm made famous in her song “Flatland Girl”), so he went to the San Francisco Bay Area, partly attracted to progress. The bluegrass movement was fueled by genre followers such as David Grisman, Tony Rice, and Grateful Dead co-founder Jerry Garcia.

In 1979, he found work teaching banjo, mandolin, fiddle and guitar full-time as a resident instructor at the Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto.

“You’ll know when you grow up” [my father] there are all the other students my age,” said Tuttle. And then when I’m a little bit older, we’re going to all these bluegrass festivals together and it’s been fun.”

In her song “Grass Valley,” Tuttle sings about the magic and charm of the bluegrass festivals north of San Francisco she went to as a kid: “Deadheads and tie-dye array/Music Enthusiasts” Dawg/I’ve never seen or heard of it / It’s hippie grass / Old stuff from the 50s / Almost nothing in between,” she sings.

Tuttle’s father sang on that piece – and still teaches. He taught music to all three of his children and in a while, with the help of singer AJ Lee, formed a family band. Molly Tuttle has fond memories of that too.

“You’re bandmates,” she said. “But then you guys also get to know each other very well and you’re all living together… so comfortable. You go into the living room and play and then someone else starts to come in and mess with you. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Saddle side

I don’t want to ride in the saddle
Extra saddle, extra saddle
I just want to ride with bows
Bow legs like a boy

– the word “Side side”

Molly Tuttle traveled from Northern California to Boston and Berklee College of Music, where she attended the American Roots Music Program. She moved to Nashville in 2015 and – not wanting to be seen as a bluegrass musician – quickly found her way into some of the overlapping Americana and folk music circles.

However, her bluegrass talent has come to the fore. In 2017, she became the first woman to be nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association as guitarist of the year. She won — and again in 2018.

Tuttle said the bluegrass community has become more inclusive over the years.

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She said she was surprised to learn she was the first female candidate – even after acknowledging the bluegrass culture and playing the male-dominated guitar.

“Like even just walking into a guitar store, I have a crush on my female guitar friends because we’re all like, ‘Oh, we’re treated like Maybe we don’t know anything about guitars when we walk into a guitar store'” she said. (That hasn’t happened in a while, she said, because now she avoids going into guitar stores she doesn’t know about.)

One of Tuttle’s earliest heroes, pioneering bluegrass singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens, wrote a book called Blues working girlexplains her songs and the stories behind them.

“Every time she went out to the sales desk, there were men running at her and she had to get used to it and almost… train herself to adapt to that,” says Tuttle. “I didn’t want to have to change my personality and develop this tough look to just stay in the industry and go out and play music.”

But Tuttle notes that the bluegrass community has come a long way in terms of gender equality, even when she was young. “I really feel like it’s changed a lot and there’s more awareness about treating everyone equally and including everyone,” she said.

Another early inspiration was singer-songwriter Gillian Welch. On “Side Saddle,” Tuttle’s song to assert her own place in the male-dominated genre, she invited Welch as a guest artist.

“Some of her songs … directly inspired songs on my album,” says Tuttle. “So it’s really a bucket list thing.”

She will change

One woman, many miracles
One road, many paths
Just when you think you know her, she will change

– from “She will change”

Her bluegrass will aside, Tuttle’s debut album When you’re ready combines her selectivity with the singer-songwriter’s richer palette. Her second album … But I Want To Be With You is one of those covers of many pop genres, and equally agnostic about the concept of style or genre.

crooked tree clearly a bluegrass record. She hired Dobro master Jerry Douglas to produce the album and has formed a new touring band, Golden Highway, with traditional instrumental and vocal arrangements.

“I don’t think I’m all bluegrass,” says Tuttle. “I know I’ve always listened to other styles of music. I’ve always played different styles of music and written other styles of music. But it’s great for this last record to just lean on that part of the music. who’s that.” I did.”

Tuttle said she’s missed out on social events, festivals, and the community aspect of bluegrass, especially during the isolation period due to the pandemic.

The album also featured a number of dream guests – among them Margo Price, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor and Billy Strings. In a way, she said, it was a “pleasant” thing to let herself think about making a “full” bluegrass record.

“Then the songs started to flow and it was like a door opened,” she said. “And I knew I needed to make that album.”

crooked tree

A river never wonders why it flows around a bend
A mountain doesn’t ask how it rises from the ground
So who am I to wish that I wasn’t like me? Who I am?

– from “Crown tree”

Tuttle takes her to some tropical bluegrass on Curved Tree. There’s a murder-reverse ballad (“The River Knows”), a song about bootleg alcohol (“Dooley’s Farm”), and a song that tells the story of a mysterious outlaw (“Castilleja”). She lamented that the rising cost of living forced many artists to leave her hometown in “San Francisco Blues.”

But the album is also filled with personal statements, informed by autobiography. The above theme song crooked tree tells of two trees side by side – one straight enough to be cut down and put in a factory, and the other to grow “wild and free”. It’s not hard to see who Tuttle identifies with.

Tuttle hosted her album release party at the Station Inn.

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Joseph Ross for NPR

The song is also inspired by her experience growing up with alopecia areata, the autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. She said it came after a long journey of growing up wearing a hat, then a wig, then learning to talk about her wig, and finally becoming comfortable without it. She says the song is about “embracing your difference.”

“For me, it’s a moment in my performances where, if I’m in the right mood, I can talk about it a little bit and even take off my wig and play that song,” says Tuttle. “And so I’m also slowly learning to show that side of me in my music.”

At her album release party at The Station Inn, she announced that the stage was getting hot – and it was time to ditch the wig – and after Jerry Douglas’s opening on resonant guitar, she and her band started the title track.

“So who am I to wish I wasn’t? Who am I?” she sang. And then she hit the chorus. “Oh, I’d rather be a crooked tree.”

Want more? Read the profiles of the first-time Grammy nominees we featured last year: Barlow & Bear, lover, Arooj Aftab and Jimmie Allen.


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